When Mike Clark first moved to Cloverdale, Indiana two-and-a-half years ago and started to get to know the fine folks in his community, the new police chief soon realized there were a few families who truly needed help, especially during the Christmas season. Driven by his desire to give, and to teach his new team of officers a valuable lesson about working together to help the less fortunate, Clark came up with a plan that was sure to unify not only his department, but also the community it faithfully serves.

Last December, Cloverdale police officers under Clark’s leadership organized a 100-person, invitation-only Christmas dinner for the most needy families in town. By the end of the night, the officers provided meals and served the 100 people they invited, along with an additional 60 people. The extra attendees reminded Clark once again how great the needs were in his community, and so he began to get a head start on the 2015 event.

Cloverdale Future Farmers of America advisor Callie Edie spotted an article in the local paper asking for donations to the police department’s effort, and so Edie and her students decided to give their time and energy to make a larger impact in the community.

For nearly a decade, the Cloverdale FFA has successfully hosted an annual toy drive. Last year’s event served a record 500 children. Cloverdale High School senior and FFA chapter President Mariah Huge wrote a proposal detailing the club’s ideas and headed to the police department to drop it off. When she got there, she was taken aback to have a one-on-one meeting with Chief Clark himself. The two enthusiastically discussed the proposal to collaborate. Clark agreed, a plan came together and fundraising was kicked into high gear. Boxes and jars were distributed all over the community to collect toys and funds, and donations were made to the Cloverdale Police Department to help with the purchase of toys and meals they would serve this year. Best of all, a much needed positive dialogue between law enforcement and young people in the community began to take place.

Cloverdale Police Chief Mike Clark | Photo: Laura Hendricks Hatton

All of that hard work and planning came together this past Saturday as the first annual “Clovers, Cops, and Christmas” event at Cloverdale’s C Bar C Expo Center. It was wildly successful. The FFA clubs — which included Cloverdale’s as well as neighboring North and South Putnam’s — set up a private area where parents could come “shop” for a few toys for their children, take them to a wrapping station manned by volunteers, and put them under the tree at home to be opened Christmas morning. Cloverdale Police Department served meals, and provided security and entertainment for the event, complete with Santa and a parade of first responders.

According to event coordinator Laura Hendricks Hatton, 604 children were given multiple Christmas gifts, and dinner was served to 146 families. “The spirit of the event was one of joy and gratefulness,” Hatton told Opportunity Lives. “There was not a person that I spoke to that didn’t either thank us for the opportunity to receive, or the opportunity to give.”

One of the most amazing things about the event was the lesson it taught the students who volunteered. “This event has provided the opportunity to be able to see how thankful the families and kids are to have gifts under the Christmas tree,” Huge told Opportunity Lives. “That is the big thing about the toy drive that warms my heart and makes me want to make the [event] the best it can be.”

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Kelsey Tungett, sophomore at Cloverdale High, told her local newspaper that she loved seeing people come to the toy drive, adding that her “heart just fills up with love.”

During a time when relationships between law enforcement and the youth in communities all over the nation seem to need a little help, it’s heartwarming to see the Cloverdale community come together as it did on Saturday.

Contributions for next year’s “Clovers, Cops and Christmas” event are already being collected and can be sent to: Cloverdale Police Department, P. O. Box 254, Cloverdale, IN 46120.

Tami Nantz is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and editor-in-chief for Smart Girl Politics, an online community for conservative women. She lives in Linden, Virginia with her husband and daughter. You can follow Tami on Twitter @TamiNantz.